It is rare when the best-laid plans come to fruition once the starting gate opens. After getting a sharp break out of post 1, the rest of Stanford's 1 1/16-mile tour around Gulfstream Park went exactly as his connections hoped, with the son of Malibu Moon leading at every point of call en route to a three-length win over stablemate Keen Ice in the $100,000 Harlan's Holiday.
The Harlan's Holiday had more than the usual implications on the line. With the inaugural edition of the $12 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (gr. I) set to be held at Gulfstream Jan. 28, Saturday's test served as a last audition of sorts for Stanford, Keen Ice and fellow Todd Pletcher-trainee Madefromlucky.
With Stanford emphatically taking care of his end of the bargain and grade I-winner Keen Ice closing admirably as the 8-5 favorite despite his stablemate getting away with tepid fractions of :24.61 and :48.94, Pletcher said there are now a couple serious conversations that need to take place in the coming weeks.
"I thought it was terrific for (Stanford)," said Pletcher, who took three of the top four placings, with Madefromlucky crossing the wire fourth. "It probably worked against Keen Ice a little bit, but despite that I thought he ran pretty well to be second. Javier (Castellano) tried to keep him closer because of the slow fractions and the way the track's playing. I thought he ran pretty well considering that.
"I'll talk to the connections ... but Stanford and Keen Ice certainly ran well enough to consider the Pegasus."
Stanford is owned by Stonestreet Stables along with the Coolmore partnership of Susan Magnier, Michael Tabor. and Derrick Smith. Coolmore does already own one of the 12 starting positions for the Pegasus World Cup. Donegal Racing, owner of Keen Ice, would need to work out a deal with one of the other shareholders to get in the gate.
Everything worked in Stanford's favor in his first start since finishing eighth in the June 11 Mohegan Sun Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont Park.
Jockey John Velazquez got the 4-year-old bay colt away in strong order and had the 9-5 second choice coasting as he cruised up front, with Awesome Slew tracking second in an outside path and Madefromlucky on the rail third down the backstretch.
Keen Ice rolled up three wide on the final turn and, along with Awesome Slew, tried to mount a challenge to Stanford. The pacesetter responded with more than enough in reserve, drawing clear under mild urging to hit the wire in 1:42.10 over a fast track.
"He broke really well and got to the first turn easy," Velazquez said. "I just waited to see how he did on the lead. He did it really easy. He runs hard all the time. I see it (in) the mornings, too. He was fresh and even when I asked him down the lane, he wanted to run. He did start pricking his ears and I had to get into him a little bit to keep his mind focused. But when (Keen Ice) came to him galloping out, my horse galloped out really well."
Bred by WinStar Farm, out of the Distorted Humor mare Rosy Humor, Stanford notched his first graded stakes win in April, when he scored a front-running triumph in the $1.25 million Charles Town Classic (gr. II). The $550,000 purchase at the 2014 Barretts March 2-year-olds in training sale improved his record to five wins from 13 starts and $1,197,560 in earnings.